You know, Mike, there are always those players you admire because, to use a cliche, they’ve got heart. Call it toughness, grit, determination, guts. These are the hard-nosed guys who come to play, day in, day out. Their uniforms get dirty, and they never back down from a fight. They are, I mean to say, our kind of players. The ones who make you think, Give me fifteen more players like that, and we’ll hoist a flag.
So we are not talking about Roberto Alomar. Yes, you have to love tough guys. I do think that many times teams that win have tough characters, which builds their overall team chemistry.
And even beyond the issues of winning and losing, these are the types of players we root for, the blue-collar types. So what I’d like to do is name The Mets All-Time “2 Guys” Team. Let’s start with catcher. Obviously, Mike Piazza is the greatest catcher the Mets have ever had — I stood at salute every time he came to the plate — but he doesn’t make the “2 Guys” Team. Nope, this race comes down to two tough sons-of-bitches: John Stearns and Jerry Grote.
Grote was a tough guy and would be my choice for all-time Mets defensive catcher. But this one to me is hands down, John “Bad Dude” Stearns. John actually acquired that name when he was a star football player at Colorado. “Bad Dude” was a great football player and a tough one but he cemented his place on this team with his exploits as a baseball player.
Baserunners tried to score against Stearns at their own risk. He broke none other than Dave Parker’s jaw in a violent collision at the plate. Stearns had his teammates’ backs too. He is famous for a body slam he performed on Bill Gullickson. Bill had thrown at teammate Mike Jorgensen, and Stearns charged out of the dugout to the mound and leveled Gullickson.
Stearns, the #2 overall pick by the Phillies in the 1973 draft (Robin Yount was #3, Dave Winfield #4), starred on some awful teams, so he was like an oasis in the desert. On three separate seasons — ’77, ’80, ’82 — he was the Mets lone All-Star representative. We could be proud of John. Mazzilli preened and fans adored him, but all Stearns did was play hard. Too hard, maybe. Injuries limited Stearns to just under 800 games across eight full seasons, 1975-82. There are more fun stories. He once took a run at Braves mascot Chief Noc-A-Homa. Stearns recalled it this way: “I watched him for three or four years and I said, ‘Someday I’m going to clothesline this guy.’ One day I took off, running at him like a defensive back. He looked at me like, ‘What is this guy going to do?’ I didn’t really hit him. I kind of dragged him down. It was just a fun thing but Joe Torre was our manager and he didn’t like it.” John was also the bench coach who famously barked, after an ice-cold Mike Piazza doubled in Game 1 of the 2000 NLCS, “The monster is out of the cage!” There are other great Stearns stories. Didn’t he once tackle a fan?
That is the legend, yes, that a fan had ran onto the field and Stearns buried him into the ground before Security could get to him. I have to admit though, to no personal recollection of that incident.
In any event there is plenty of hard evidence that I can attest to that Bad Dude Stearns was a rough customer. Congratulations to our first member of our “2 Guys Team.” We began, of course, with a catcher because, if you don’t have a catcher you are going to have a lot of passed balls.